We wound our way through the streets next to the Independence Palace with some “assistance” from locals who kept telling us the war museum was the opposite direction from what it was actually in. Eventually we reached a walled compound within which we could see a CH-47 Chinook. This was either the War Remnants Museum or the Saigon Helicopter Market.
The place was packed with a bunch of tour groups, we dipsy-doodled our way into the entrance, past the souvenir store and into the ground floor exhibit. This was a bit of history but mostly consisted of 1960s-70s era posters either supporting the North Vietnamese or calling for the withdrawal of American troops. Posters showing Cuban solidarity were prominent, as were those from the communist parties of European countries.
The second floor was not for the faint of heart. To the left of the staircase was an exhibit of American atrocities that had been inflicted on Vietnamese civilians. Images of soldiers picking up and defiling pieces of corpses, victims of bombings (including one particularly striking image of a child that had been burnt by phosphate bombs), and a gallery of captured American light weapons. We’ve decided not to post the worst of these but here’s a sample:
On the other side of the staircase things got even more depressing with a gallery of Agent Orange victims. I had heard that shit was carcinogenic but I had no idea it was responsible for the child deformities that this gallery pinned on it. I’m hedging my words here a bit because it’s important to keep in mind that there’s a lot of anti-American emotion involved here and while I have no doubt that plenty of bad shit happened, I’m no expert on chemical weapons and have no idea whether AO was actually responsible. That said, the exhibit also showed the children of GIs with deformities that had been blamed on AO and claimed that while victims in the US had been compensated by the chemical companies the victims in Vietnam had had their claims dismissed. I’ll leave it to the reader to factcheck all of this.
Anyhow, back to the content of the gallery. It was picture after picture of fetuses and children with horrific deformities, many of the children died within a few days of being born. We’ve got some pictures of these but we’ve decided not to post them; if you really want to see, I’m sure Google will help you find them somewhere else.
On the top floor were a couple of special exhibits, one related to missing journalists who’d last been seen headed into Cambodia to cover the war as it spread into that country and others displaying the work of individual photographers who’d covered the war, or in the case of one Japanese photographer, who’d covered the aftermath of Agent Orange in great depth. We headed downstairs.
After a quick peruse of the souvenir shop – they had some great war-era propaganda posters along with, inexplicably, posters for contemporary American films – we headed out to explore an outdoor exhibit about the conditions of POWs during the war, especially the notorious “tiger cages” and a surprise appearance by a guillotine.
All of this was a bit creepy but I got a shiver when I saw a mannequin in a dimly-lit cell that was shackled to the floor using leg shackles nearly identical to those we saw the Khmer Rouge had used in Cambodia.
On the other side of the walled compound was captured US planes, armour and artillery. We took a stroll through them, left and grabbed a taxi.
The cabbie fucked us over not once but twice. First he drove all over the place, racking up a bill that was more than double what we’d paid to get to that same neighbourhood. On the way out of the cab Murphy and I tossed our shares of his scam proceeds to Drisdelle (riding shotgun) and left him to fill in the rest. Murphy and I stood at the hostel for a couple minutes and Drisdelle was still in the cab… What the hell is he doing? He finally came out and said we gave him 10,000 dong notes instead of 100,000 dong notes. What had happened is that he’d handed our money over, the cab did a switcharoo then accused Drisdelle of shortchanging him, so not only did he screw us with a fare twice as large as it should have been, we paid for it almost twice over. Ugh. Oh well, time to get out of Saigon.